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Luis de FREITAS BRANCO (1890-1955)
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1907) [23:31]
Violin Sonata No. 2 (1928) [24:02]
Prélude for violin and piano (1910) [4:03]
Nuno Soares (violin)
Youri Popov (piano)
rec. 2019, Auditorium, University of Aveiro
MPMP 07 [51:40]

Luis de Freitas Branco’s two violin sonatas, composed two decades apart, offer contrasting pleasures. The earlier work explores Franckian lore and the later one pursues modality. Clearly the spine of his development, from the precocious prize-winning 17-year-old to the more mature composer of the 1928 work is clear, but so too are the developments that advanced his harmonic palette as well as his musical horizons.

The 1908 sonata’s lyricism is winning and its indebtedness to Franck’s procedures clear without being intolerably slavish. If Fauré and Delius seem also to be lodestars that reflects a strong Gallic inheritance which loosens only lightly, such as in the giocoso elements of the Allegretto, which has plenty of naïve charm as well as rusticity. The slow movement is youthfully brief and tinged with romance but not heavily so, as there’s a meatily-sized finale to navigate, with a melancholy central panel. For the 1928 sonata Freitas Branco reached out to wholesome modal songfulness which he controls finely, allowing it to slow to delicate tranquility. He is keen to contrast tempi, allowing the scherzo that follows to include a fast-slow scheme – a kind of Gallic harlequinade. Though he allows the violin to ascend eloquently in the Andantino it’s the movement’s Doric March element that lingers rather more in the mind; dynamics are here quite extreme, the music whispering. It’s hardly chimes at midnight in the finale, but chimes do animate the music, and even with a hint of renewed melancholy the music is triumphantly fresh if not, in the last resort, especially distinctive.

The Prélude of 1910 resurfaced in manuscript as late as 2005, having lain unperformed for many decades. The violin offers rather an impressionistic line whilst the piano is more robust and chordally supportive.

An exact competitor is the team of Carlos Damas and Anna Tomasik on Naxos, whilst further back in time, dating from the mid-80s, there’s the splendid Tibor Varga and Roberto Szidon, obviously not offering the Prélude, just the sonatas, on Strauss SP 4045, a recording I’ve not heard. Damas plays with more overt expression than Nuno Soares - sometimes a little too much – and his intonation is better. Damas and Tomaski take both the scherzo and Andantino of Sonata 2 significantly faster than the Soares and Youri Popov, minimizing the sense of undue speeding-up, in the latter movement in particular.

My own choice of the two recordings I’ve heard is inclined toward the Naxos but Soares and Popov offer well-considered and honest readings.

Jonathan Woolf

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